The Arrogance of Sports Fans (New Yorker.com)
Outbursts are part of the sports spectacle. Players lose their composure—they shout and shove, swing, taunt, and gawp. Then they’re contrite. Prompt apologies are generally best: we may like suspense in our games, but we hate it when there are loose ends in our sporting dramas.
Saturday night brought one of the more discomfiting moments in college basketball in recent memory, at the end of a game between Oklahoma State University and Texas Tech, in Lubbock. With six seconds left and Texas Tech up by two, the O.S.U. point guard Marcus Smart tried to challenge a fast break and fell into the crowd. As he was getting up, a fan shouted something. Smart stiffened, as though called to attention, and darted into the stands. He faced the fan for a fleeting second, then pushed him firmly with both hands before wheeling around to the court, where a referee promptly slapped him with a technical foul. That put the game out of reach: Texas Tech had pulled off the upset. Smart had to be escorted off the court as Texas Tech fans stormed it in celebration.
Smart said nothing to the press that night, or the next day. Clearly, though, he’d made a mistake. Smart is all but a lock in the N.B.A. draft. (He was last year, too, as a freshman, but decided to return for his sophomore season.) This is precisely the sort of attention a pro hopeful is careful to avoid. At first, his coach spoke for him. “I know Marcus Smart’s heart,” Travis Ford said after the game. “I know he’s hurting. I know how regretful he is now. Those are the things that make me love Marcus Smart.” By Monday, Smart had apologized, and the Big 12 suspended him for three games. Not even Smart’s staunchest defenders objected to the penalty. During a press conference, the nineteen-year-old looked stricken.